I've documented repeatedly how New York Times columnist Tom Friedman parrots the propaganda of Big Money, using his column to legitimize some of the worst, most working-class-persecuting policies this country has seen in the last century - all while bragging on television that he doesn't even bother read the details of the policies he advocates for. I have always believed Friedman's perspective comes from the bubble he lives in - that is, I have always believed he feels totally at ease shilling for Big Money and attacking workers because from the comfortable confines of the Washington suburbs he lives in and the elite cocktail parties he attends, what Friedman says seems mainstream to him. But I never had any idea how dead on I was about the specific circumstances of Friedman's bubble - and how it potentially explains a lot more than I ever thought.
As the July edition of the Washingtonian Magazine notes, Friedman lives in "a palatial 11,400-square-foot house, now valued at $9.3 million, on a 7½-acre parcel just blocks from I-495 and Bethesda Country Club." He "married into one of the 100 richest families in the country" - the Bucksbaums, whose real-estate Empire is valued at $2.7 billion.
Let's be clear - I'm a capitalist, so I have no problem with people doing well or living well, even Tom Friedman. That said, this does potentially explain an ENORMOUS amount about Friedman's perspective. Far from the objective, regular-guy interpreter of globalization that the D.C. media portrays him to be, Friedman is a member of the elite of the economic elite on the planet Earth. In fact, he's married into such a giant fortune, it's probably more relevant to refer to him as Billionaire Scion Tom Friedman than columnist Tom Friedman, both because that's more descriptive of what he represents, and more important for readers of his work to know so that they know a bit about where he's coming from.
Mind you, I don't think everyone needs to publish their net worth. But Friedman's not everyone. He's not just "doing pretty well" and is not just any old columnist. He's not just a millionaire or a multimillionaire - he's member of one of the wealthiest families in the world, and is one of the most influential media voices on the planet, who writes specifically about economic/class issues. If politicians are forced to disclose every last asset they own, you'd think at the very least, the New York Times - in the interest of basic disclosure - should have a tagline under Friedman's economic columns that says "Tom Friedman is an heir to a multi-billion-dollar business empire."
Again, there's positively nothing wrong with people being rich in general, or Tom Friedman being a billionaire scion in specific. The problem is that so few of his readers know this, even as he aggressively uses his platform to justify policies that almost exclusively benefit his super-wealthy brethren - all under the guise of supposed objectivity.
Then again, the fact that we know so little about who is actually making opinion in this country isn't surprising. Even looking at this kind of information as it relates to the most important opinionmaker in the world is looked down upon by Washington insiders/elites/politicians. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson from "A Few Good Men," deep down in places they don't talk about at parties, they want billionaires like Friedman dictating the debate because they need someone creating public rationales for policies that enrich Big Money interests, sell out America and guarantee the next fat campaign contribution.
Some, of course, might ask: Why should we care about Friedman's billionaire status, but not the status of very rich people like, say, Ted Kennedy? Two points on that: First, most people already know that Kennedy comes from a very wealthy family, so there is no lack of knowledge by the public about potential conflicts of class interest. The same can't be said for Friedman, who is constantly billed as just an average Joe speaking his mind.
But far more important, the superwealth of a political actor (ie. a politician, columnist, etc.) is really only relevant when that actor is using their power to push their own class's economic interests, because then and only then does it really bring up questions of conflicts of interest, bias and corruption. Ted Kennedy is widely known as one of the most outspoken advocates for the poor and for economic progressive causes in general - causes that defy the interests of his personal economic class. Thus, his wealth really isn't important in conflict-of-interest, objectivity or personal corruption terms as it relates to his actions in the political arena. (Same thing goes, I might add, for wealthy folks who donate to liberal causes. In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt critics, they are "traitors to their class." They are altruistically/patriotically donating against their own personal economic class interests and for the broader good - and therefore there is no relevant conflict of interest or pay-to-play corruption going on. That stands in sharp contrast to right-wing billionaires who fund conservative institutions that purport to be steered only by principled ideology, but which inevitably spend much of their time trumpeting the very specific policies that personally benefit their big donors.)
Friedman, unlike Kennedy, uses his position to push the very specific economic policies (such as "free" trade) that the superwealthy in this country are pushing and exclusively benefit from. That's why his billionaire scion status is so important for the public to know - because it raises objectivity questions. If, for instance, Richard Mellon Scaife wrote articles in newspapers demanding the repeal of the estate tax - don't you think it would be important for readers to be warned that Scaife was a multimillionaire whose family (and the few families like his) would almost exclusively benefit from the policies he was writing about? Of course. That's called full disclosure and transparency, the very things critical to an objective free press and democracy - the very thing Friedman says is so important for other countries when he writes about foreign policy.
So the next time you read a piece by Tom Friedman telling us how wonderful job outsourcing is or how great it is to pass Big Money's latest trade deal that include no labor, wage, human rights or environmental provisions - just remember: Tom Friedman, scion of a billionaire business empire, is just doing right by his own economic class.
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